NEW characters feature in a musical adventure starring Scotland’s “favourite son”, opening in the city which gave him life. Oor Wullie premieres at Dundee Rep before touring to eight towns and cities across the country in the new year.

The spiky-haired scamp will be joined by his pals Fat Boab, Soapy Soutar, Wee Eck and two new characters, including Dudley, named to honour illustrator Dudley D Watkins, who helped create Wullie in 1936 for DC Thomson Media.

Colourful sculptures of the laughing rascal, named Scotland’s Favourite Son by public vote in 2004, were dotted around cities during the summer to raise funds for children’s hospital charities.

Another new character will join the gang, but comic strip fans won’t make their acquaintance until the show opens at the Rep, where Oor Wullie is a centrepiece of their 80th-anniversary season.

Wullie himself celebrated his 80th birthday two years ago in The Sunday Post, also home to Auchenshoogle’s first family The Broons.

The Rep production, presented in partnership with international touring company Selladoor Worldwide, will be the first time the beloved boy and his bucket have featured on stage in 30 years.

Back in 1990 Ashley Jensen, now TV sleuth Agatha Raisin, made her stage debut as Wullie in a lo-fi tour directed by Jimmy Logan.

The new production sees artistic director Andrew Panton again team up with award-winning writing partnership Noisemaker following their enchanting Snow Queen last year.

Bringing Wullie to the stage has long been an ambition of Panton, who directed Rob Drummond’s successful take on The Broons just months before he joined the Rep in 2017.

Whereas The Broons was “a play with songs” Oor Wullie is “very much a musical”, says Panton.

That’s down to the talents of Noisemaker, who recently became the first Scottish writing team to be selected for the Johnny Mercer Writers Colony at Goodspeed, an organisation dedicated to musical theatre.

Just last week another Panton/Noisemaker collaboration, Hi, My Name Is Ben, was presented at the Annual Festival of New Musicals in New York.

Panton says the pair – writer Scott Gilmour and composer Claire McKenzie – are invigorating the form.

“What they do is use music and song and spoken word to tell stories in a really interesting and innovative way,” he says. “They use the form of musical theatre in a different way to more conventional repertory and that’s why I like working with them.

"And also the great collaboration that we have together, which is one of the main reasons that I make theatre, that collaboration with different creative forces.”

The team were keen for the production to better reflect contemporary society while also staying true to its origins.

The National:

Rep Ensemble stalwart Annie Louise Ross will play PC Murdoch, while female characters such as long-suffering girlfriend Primrose and Wullie’s maw have stronger roles than the traditional comic strip.

Basher Mackenzie, Wullie’s nemesis, will be a tearaway girl performed by Leanne Traynor.

As well as the unnamed new character currently firmly under wraps, the production features Dudley, Auchenshoogle’s librarian with possible magic powers.

He’s named after the Lancashire artist who drew Wullie for 30 years after helping to create him in the late 1930s. Around the same time a group of professional and amateur actors were formed which went on to found the Rep in 1939.

They performed weekly repertory throughout the war and beyond, offering the kind of respite from current events that The Broons and Wullie would do for decades after.

“What we very much wanted to do with the piece was to keep the origins of Oor Wullie while talking about an Oor Wullie for now, for 2020, an Oor Wullie that represents a contemporary Scotland,” says Panton.

“When you set out to tell a story on stage you’ve got to answer a couple of questions,” he continues. “One is why, why do you want to tell this story? The other is why now? There has to be a reason for wanting to tell a story. I hope that’s what we’ve done. It’s a very funny show and it has a real point to make. There’s some hidden meaning in there.”

Centre-stage as the lovable imp himself is Martin Quinn, who comes to the Rep directly from David Hare’s Peter Gynt for the National Theatre.

Quinn made his professional debut at the Rep with the National Theatre of Scotland’s Let The Right One In back in 2013.

“I’m absolutely thrilled that Martin is playing Oor Wullie,” says Panton. “I worked with him on Passing Places here last year – he’s really part of the Dundee Rep story.”

Though Quinn initially found the prospect of taking on the cartoon hero daunting, Panton says he has the qualities the role demands.

“He has to be a good singer, a really great actor and have fantastic comic timing,” says the director. “He needs to be so likable and loveable by everyone instantly. He has to be mischievous, but not so cheeky that he becomes unlikable – that’s Oor Wullie.”

November 23 to January 5, Dundee Rep. Tel: 01382 223 530.; Jan 20 to 25, Theatre Royal, Glasgow. Tel: 0844 871 7647.; Jan 28 to February 1, King’s Theatre, Edinburgh. Tel: 0131 529 6000.; Feb 3 to 8, Gaiety Theatre, Ayr. Tel: 01292 288235.; Feb 10 to Feb 15, Eden Court, Inverness; Feb 26 to 29, Macrobert Arts Centre, Stirling. Tel: 01786 466 666.; March 3 to 7, His Majesty’s Theatre, Aberdeen. Tel: 01224 641122.; Mar 9 to 11, Adam Smith Theatre, Kirkcaldy. Tel: 01592 583302.; Mar 12 to 14, Beacon Arts Centre, Greenock. Tel: 01475 723 723.